Shrine co-ordinator

In the coffee shop, as we are leaving, S gets chatting to a woman she knew in the prison. Donna is a shrine co-ordinator. Oh, what’s that then? A great deal of work and difficulty she says. I press her.

She tells me of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. In 1531, the BVM appeared to Juan Diego, a poor man whose clothes were woven from cactus fibres. She told him to start a shrine to her, but the bishop said no. So she told him to go to the top of a hill, and pick flowers there. It was December, but he found Castilian roses, native to Spain rather than Mexico. As instructed he wrapped them in cactus cloth, and took them to the bishop. When they unwrapped the flowers, there was this image on the cloth.

our-lady-of-guadelupe

The image is miraculous. There are no brush strokes visible, and no identifiable pigment. It has been analysed by NASA. Cactus cloth would normally break down in fifty years, but nearly five centuries later it is pristine. In 1910 there was a bomb taken into the chapel where it is kept, in a bunch of flowers (Mexican revolution, I presume) which blew out the windows but did not hurt anyone or damage the relic at all. In 1979 the Pope ordered two hundred digital copies, one for each country in the world. They are- I am not sure of the technical term she used, something like “effective relics”- looking on the copy gives the same blessing as looking on the original. She hands me a small piece of card with the image on it. They also have prayer cards and banners. She could send me one.

The small piece of card is enough for me, I say. I am not into devotional objects. My Angels at Mamre icon is quite enough. I find the card, on my side-table as I type, disturbing.

Her friend talks of the nuns at Nupton: they ran a care home, but have just been disbanded and sent to other communities all over the country. She shows a photo on her phone of the Bishop in full garb standing in front of a group of nuns at their last mass together. She then was guided to the death-bed of a woman, who was able to reach out from under the covers and take her hand. Anyone would find this moving, but she finds it Providential. She has just been to Medjugorge, where the BVM appeared in 1981, prophesying a terrible war.

I say I know S from the Quaker meeting, but have no interest in devotional objects, and a Richard Dawkins objection to talk of miracles. This shuts her down, and is too strong- I am interested in people’s beliefs, and can see that the relic may give someone reassurance or consolation- but is a measure of how disturbing I find talk of such things, as if they were true.

Her absolute certainty of the miraculous provenance of the relic is like the absolute certainty some Catholics have of the wrongness of LGBT. I hear the certainty of the relic, and wonder at its spiritual value for her; but such certainty can be poison.

Buy holy water!

Holy water, available on Amazon! What would you use it for? The happy reviewer wrote, living in shoreditch i have regular problems with foxes and vampires. This particular holy water didn’t work so well on the foxes but was just so effective against the undead. I splashed just a small amount on this vampire once and his whole face fell off.

The forum Catholic Answers- To explain and defend the Faith– debated this. Veteran member Dorothy said, Right away it is problematic, as new age “holy water” is not blessed by a priest. You can obtain holy water that is blessed from your Catholic Church. Note the scare quotes: make sure only to use proper, Catholic, holy water.

Porthos- probably not the Musketeer- said, Further, any blessed item loses its blessing when sold. Revert_Jen wanted to see citations for that: I suppose a controlled experiment could be held easily enough, unless experimenting on blessed items makes them lose their blessing too. Lovely, to see her Mediaeval way of finding truth prospering in the Catholic church.

I checked with eBay. If a blessed item is sold, the blessing is lost; to claim otherwise is the sin of Simony, and a mortal sin for the seller. Further, blessed items have no special power, only sentimental value. The Pope’s blessing is worth no more than a deacon’s, a rare non-hierarchical rule for his church. But this bit is odd: Any blessed item may be given to another person, whether that person is Catholic or not, and the blessing is retained. The exception to this is for items blessed under the old regulations on indulgences. These blessings have all been abolished. These blessings were personal and do not pass on to another person if the item is given as a gift. So, if someone were to give you an old indulgenced crucifix or rosary you would not be able to gain the indulgences. The item is, however, still considered blessed in the ordinary sense.

I had thought the RC church last sold indulgences before the counter-reformation.

eBay again: what about “Papal Blessings” obtained from Rome? In this case the person obtaining the blessing is paying for the parchment of declaration, packing and shipping, and any administrative fees. Remember, the people involved in producing the document and packing and shipping it must be paid. There is no charge for the blessing per se. Any fee is to pay those involved in the process of procuring and sending the document.

Parchment Papal blessings may be granted, if there is a nihil obstat, for the 18th and 50th birthdays and every decade thereafter, and requested in writing or by facsimile transmission equipment- telefax (+39) 06.69883132- but not by email or telephone.

Direct From Lourdes provides Lourdes Water, Rosary Beads, Miraculous Medals and a large collection of the best Catholic Gifts. Our fine range of quality and unique Religious Goods and Catholic Jewelry can be sent to any location worldwide. A grateful recipient writes, The Catholic Products were beautifully packaged and I am very pleased with the quality of your Catholic Gift Shop. I even cried when I opened the package and held the water in my hand. These things give many people a great deal of comfort.

Murillo, Maria Immaculata

Morality and contraception

Things happen. Human beings have purposes and intention. Things don’t.

Here’s the Catholic Church on contraception, taken as before from Rejection of Pascal’s Wager. John Chrysostom found it appalling: Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. Weird. Pius XI wrote, No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything which is intrinsically against nature may become comformable with nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is designed primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purposely sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. So a condom to prevent spreading AIDS was forbidden by John Paul II.

The current position: Wikipedia’s source claims condoms were permitted by Benedict XVI; but Francis dodged the question, claiming other problems of Africa were more important. Indeed they are, and indeed the Pope crying out against poverty is a good thing; but one word permitting condoms where there is risk of AIDS transmission is not too much to ask. Francis referred to the “openness to life of the sexual act”.

A single celled eukaryote ancestor of all flora, fauna and fungi produced a gamete requiring another gamete to produce a new organism. How this evolved is a mystery. The result is to permit the evolution of complex, multicellular organisms, but that was not the purpose.

Orangutan females have sex with lots of males. A theory is that they are aware of fertility, mate with the best male when he will be the father, and mate with the others so that they will not kill an infant which might be their own. Humans have sex when infertile. This has the effect of bonding people together. It did not evolve with that purpose, but arose at random, and flourished because it promoted reproduction.

Sex is not designed. It has effects, and people do it to achieve those effects; and we ignore the risk of other effects because that, too, promotes reproduction: this forgetfulness flourishes. Natural law theory fails because it confuses is and ought; and because in this case it chooses the troublesome, rather than the pleasurable, effect of sex as its purpose. Thomas Aquinas said contraception is a grave sin and to be classified as a crime and against nature- I sourced that quote from Father Hardon– so the Roman Catholic Church is stuck with facilitating the spread of AIDS. I find that immoral- but I judge it by results, rather than by considering the acts causing them.

Hagia Sophia mosaic of John Chrysostom

The Catholic Church and abortion

They are against it. They imagine they have moral reasons for this. Their method of moral reasoning is inferior to mine. My method of moral reasoning fits free people; theirs fits people following the rules of an oligarchy.

Catholic morality is deontological, following rules. Certain acts are considered sins, whatever the consequences: the end never justifies the means, they say. My morality is at least in part consequentialist: I look at the intended result.

Can a foetus be aborted to save the life of the mother, when if it is not aborted both will die? No, they say: Two natural deaths are a lesser evil than one murder. John Paul II wrote, The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. “Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo. This is clearly not an argument: it is merely a reiteration of words, to be completely clear.

However, in the case of ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus has implanted in the fallopian tube, removal of that tube is permissible under the principle of double effect- the surgeon removes the tube, mutilating her and making pregnancy later less likely, in order to save the woman’s life, with the unintended consequence that the foetus dies. However, removal of the foetus from the fallopian tube, saving the tube, is not permitted, because that is the direct act of killing the foetus.

I analyse this situation by its consequences. This is named consequentialist ethics. Consider the choices:

  1. Remove the foetus without damaging the tube. The foetus is dead, the woman’s life is saved, she retains her chances of pregnancy later.
  2. Remove the foetus and the tube. The foetus is dead, the woman’s life is saved, her chances of pregnancy are reduced.

To me, clearly, the first is preferable. The church considers the second preferable because it considers acts rather than consequences. For me, the end justifies the means. For them, the need to avoid the wicked act of directly killing the foetus justifies mutilating the mother.

I cite the legal principle that a person is presumed to intend the consequences of their acts. The Catholic doctor knows that the foetus is implanted in the fallopian tube which s/he removes; how can it be said that the doctor does not intend to kill it?

To me, there are situations where moral rules are useful. Do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal; but it seems to me that I follow rules from virtue ethics rather than deontology: I am not the kind of person who does that. This makes me a moral agent, the judge of my own morality, rather than slavishly following rules thought out before consequentialist ethics was conceived.

Catholic position from The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager.

Benozzo_Gozzoli, the Triumph of Aquinas over Averroes

Internalised homophobia

You see, I want to sympathise with the man. However much of a villain he is, he is also a victim.

Disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien still fascinates me. What was he thinking? Possibly, when he was unmasked he was merely a hypocrite: no longer believing any of the doctrines of his church, he still prated what he had to, to maintain his income and power, and access to men for sexual exploitation. Possibly, the homophobia of his church had so hollowed him out that he was no more than that: while St Paul wrote of the Christian being justified, sanctified, glorified, the homophobic church instead took away all truth and honour from the human being, leaving only a husk. Could the truth be more complex?

He would not have started in that way. Quite probably, as a child wanting to be a priest, O’Brien would believe in God the Creator, in Jesus, and even in the human accretions of his church. He would be aware of his sexuality, but be very quiet about it: his church and the wider society, where gay lovemaking was a criminal offence, both told him it was Wrong. Perhaps he thought that God would heal him, or that in celibacy he would find the strength to resist his natural desires.

And then, perhaps, he fell in love.

Honesty, then, would have meant penury, and disgrace in the eyes of his friends, even though honour in the eyes of reasonable people. He would be cut off from his social group, his purpose in life, everything. It would have been better than his final state, but knowing that, then, would have taken rare honesty and insight, which his career would not have prepared him for.

But then, there are so many who find celibacy impossible for them, and find a compromise: cuckolding a parishioner, living with a housekeeper. Perhaps O’Brien’s initial arrangements were not more wrongful than that. Certainly the fact that his partners were male made no moral difference.

Could it be that, at the end, he actually believed what he taught? That gay lovemaking is a serious sin; that all human beings suffer from Original Sin, and that “There is no health in us”, but that regular confession and absolution make it alright? One result of that would be that he would believe consensual sex to be as wicked as the sex he forced. He takes his understanding of right and wrong from his church, rather than from any rational consideration of suffering caused, or the true nature of human beings created by God. The child abuse for which his church has so recently apologised is not an aberration, but a natural consequence of its teachings.

Whatever his case, as well as a monster and wrongdoer, he is a victim, of the thoughtless or cruel homophobia of men he admired and trusted.

Degas, At the Milliner's

Transphobia

I would rather have died than not transitioned. I wanted to die. I had planned to transition, then realised I absolutely had to, Now, when I found myself envying a dying woman. I would have swapped lives with her.

I get read, all the time. Not everyone reads me, but most spot it quickly. I would love to drop into conversation that I am trans, and have someone actually surprised. Sîan might not have spotted it: I was so hot that I took my wig off, and she asked me if I had had cancer- then how did you lose your hair? Stress, I said. If the explanation that I am trans had not occurred to her then, perhaps it would not after.

I don’t know if I would have decided to transition if I had not known of others who had. I cross-dressed without knowing about other people. I might have just dressed female at home. I would have carried on, ashamed and terrified.

I don’t think I have reached my potential. I have been aware of other trans people, had a great deal of support and acceptance, and still suffered shame, and the derision or hatred of a few; and one man could not remain my friend, because he could not see me as a woman.

The Scottish Catholic bishops yesterday apologised to the victims of priests’ sexual abuse. It is a mean, lying apology- deliberately covering up abuse, and attempting to avoid paying proper compensation, is not merely “slow, unsympathetic and uncaring”, but criminal. Yet when I heard of it, I felt such rage. Overwhelmed by the anger of Catholics and others, they make this belated apology, yet they continue to abuse and stunt trans children with their wicked lying teaching that gender reassignment surgery (GRS) and hormone treatments distort the God-designed and God-created human body to the extent that it is a very serious sin.

I wondered what they gained from it. Faced with a person doing something which harms no-one else, which makes them happier, they condemn- to what end? Then there is the evidence of psychological studies that psychotherapy to make someone accept their assigned sex does not work.

Faced with the facts which refute their false understanding of the world, their response is a blank denial. Why? Would they feel uncomfortable to admit they were wrong? Do they wish to simplify God’s creation, and simply deny the bits they do not like? Or do they feel threatened by someone doing something which they would not want to do themselves?

They gain nothing. I enrich the lives of everyone who knows me with my unique perspective on life- just like every free human being. Keith O’Brien, talented enough to be a cardinal, crushed by having to deny his sexuality into a corrupt predator, could have given so much to his church if it had not denied his God-given being. Some people even still oppose equal marriage! They fill me with horror and contempt.

Degas, the milliner's shop

The root of Catholic transphobia

We should listen to each other, not talk at or past each other, says Leticia, so reasonably. Every Catholic is to respect the dignity of every person. She seems so nice that it is hard at first to put my finger on her transphobia.

Leticia has had a hard time. Brought up Southern Baptist, she was sexually abused aged 5, and carried guilt for that for many years. She started having sex aged 14, and now calls her promiscuous self a “hoe”. Christians were keen to be “clear” about particular sins, and that made her hate herself more.

Then she found God’s Love, and wants to communicate it. That is the Gospel. People do not need to be told particular actions are Sin, they know already, and have a conviction they are not good enough. Loved, they may begin to heal of their sin: the first message is Love. She cites Vatican II in support of this idea.

So, she says that she is happy to “respect” Caitlyn Jenner. She would use Caitlyn’s real name, and the correct pronouns. How loving and generous of her! She has been reading St Augustine, and with him believes that all human beings search for happiness. She assumed, wrongly, that I had not read him. “I should find happiness only in Thee!” cried Augustine in his Confessions, one of the quotes I remember.

One ghastly man, Edward, does not understand what she says. She struggles with her own sins, with the help of Jesus and her priest, too much to condemn another. He says he must “stand for what God has ordained” by referring to trans women with male pronouns. He compares us to SS officers, which makes a change from paedophiles. He then complains of her using the word “fuck”, which in context was beautifully vulnerable of her.

Unfortunately, Leticia is unable to love us, because she is unable to see us or hear us. “Dialogue requires listening”, she says correctly, she wants people to hear each other. I am happy to hear her talking of herself, and when she calls her former sleeping around sinful I can value that. I see no value in what she has to say about trans folk: though some of her best friends are LGBT, she still imagines that blocks our way to God.

She has the experience of having desired something, a promiscuous lifestyle, which now she finds unfulfilling. Chastity with her husband as commanded by the church fulfils her. She imagines that other things her church vilifies, such as transition, are similarly unfulfilling eventually: we think we want them but we must be mistaken, just because she was.

This is the root of her transphobia. She believes in “Objective truth”. I believe there is one truth, too, but it is so complex it can only be known in the mind of God. We see through a glass darkly: we can only know a small part of the truth.

She believes her church knows the truth, and unfortunately that includes evil rubbish the fuckwit Maledict wrote about being gay and about transsexuality. It is hard to bring her to know the truth, because she imagines she knows it already. Human beings do not just seek happiness. We heal. Just as my body heals without my conscious will, so does my psyche. My healing journey has taken me towards self-actualisation through the long process of transition. Thanks be to God.

Murillo, two women at a window

Purgatory

I Corinthians 3 is the scriptural justification, such as it is, for Purgatory.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Blake, the gate of Purgatory

The idea makes some psychological sense. Someone with her heart in the right place might not deserve Hell, but might not yet be fit to enter the presence of God: so be sent to freeze and quake in frigid purgatorial fires, which cleanse her.

However, it reinforced Christianity as a tool of social control. Obey, or however harsh life is here, you will suffer more after you die. In The Karamazov Brothers, Lena, rebelling against the stultifying conventionality which has labelled itself the Christian way has no words for any alternative but evil and wickedness; so in her desperation she cries out to be evil. Living in Christian love should be freedom, but her Orthodoxy is slavery.

Blake, Light carrying Dante, Purgatorio canto 9

The doctrine of purgatory made the Church corrupt. Noble men, who used force and feudal law to compel peasants to work to feed them, who spent their time in armour on horseback murdering other peasants, accumulated wealth to endow chantry chapels, where monks would say masses so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory. American conservative Evangelicalism is not the first time Christianity has made God weep. Blake, Purgatory, Dante entering the fire

And. There are moments in life when human beings are tested, individual and national Days of Judgment, which Jesus called being “born again” and Paul here calls passing through the fire: metaphors of pain balanced by the rewards offered, “seeing the Kingdom of God”, or being the temple where God dwells.

Why should I care what happens after my death, when I am alive? Humans create ideas of reward and punishment imposed by God, while Jesus and Paul teach of the ordinary consequences of our actions, enforced by objective reality.

Blake Purgatorio, the way into Heaven

The art of accompaniment II

Matisse, painted blue nudeI cannot encounter another human being without being open. Any preconceptions I have of them, and especially any demands I might make of them, get in the way. I am not properly encountering, now, of course: I do not walk my talk because I am in conscious incompetence; but I see the possibility, and sometimes try it.

What the Pope says is beautiful- approach the other with sandals off, as on holy ground- and helps me see that conservative Catholicism is completely worthless. It is a set of moral rules, and frightened, hectoring demands that we all keep them. It is not even of use as ascetic discipline, because the demands are made on others, and the demands one emphasises are those one may accomplish easily, from inclination or circumstance. It might give a fragile sense of community, all people believing the same way until one has to be Cast Out for Sin, but at the cost of preventing any meaningful encounter with another, or any understanding of oneself.

Liberal Catholicism sees the failure of conservative Catholicism, but is hardly better in the Pope’s definition, which states the “objective evil” of the other’s acts, even if not culpable for particular reasons. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle for mediaeval Christians, and is now a “Doctor” of the church, one of only 33 (three of whom are women). His explanation is the orthodox belief, though superseded by newer philosophy. In the same way, contraception is seen as always wrong, though experience shows the evolved human baby-making drives are quite strong enough to overcome a person’s rational commitment to contraception.

So the Liberal Catholic seeks to encounter the other, with a set of preconceptions. When this other is healthy and oriented towards God, s/he will behave in the correct Catholic way, eschewing contraception, celibate if gay. That prevents the encounter, prevents the Liberal Catholic from seeing the value in the other’s ways of being. The Catholic is trapped into thinking only her/his way can be good. Even for the liberal, there comes a moment where the other who sees the world differently must be excluded, because that other is incorrigible. In trying to remove the speck from the other’s eye, the Liberal whacks her over the head with the log in his own. At best, the liberal will tolerate church attendance of the Bad person, but not any teaching position or participation in the Eucharist. There are the Good people, who eat the bread, and the Bad people, who may receive a blessing or not as they choose.

When Francis said “Who am I to judge?” he went on The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby. He would welcome us in, and insist on his rules.

The Quaker way is to encounter the other without demands. Of course I make assumptions about how another is. I want things from people, and am perturbed or angry when they do not do as I wish. I project that as judgment on the other. This is contrary to the commands of Jesus. It excludes me from the Kingdom of Heaven. Seeing it, I have a chance of alleviating it.

The Art of Accompaniment

Francis Bacon, Head IWhat did the Pope mean? Accompanying others, to encourage growth in the Christian life? Angry as some conservative catholics have been, I could give a conservative interpretation: the Catholic church still believes it has morality cornered, sorted, specified, and the Christian should be nice in encouraging the other to see it his way. This is more effective than angry denunciation, but the result remains the Catholic one size fits all: gay BAD, contraception BAD, etc.

I hear the words on accompanying as a Quaker, and they are lovely. As a Quaker, I would say we are continually learning, and I have to be as open to learning from the other as I expect her/him to be from me. Someone who wants to teach me is interesting as a specimen, but the content of the teaching is probably worth little. I have met too many bores, know alls and closed minds- if you spent just an hour in their company, they think, and paid attention, you would have the world as sorted as they.

It is not worth doing this accompanying with everybody, says Francis. It has to be a pilgrimage with Christ to God: those who seek to avoid God are self-absorbed, and accompanying would entrench that. (Oops. I don’t think this is me, but it is a wee bit close to the bone.) The accompanier must protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. Bacon, three studies for a self-portrait, leftThere is one Catholic moral view, and the opposition is a deadly threat, rather than an alternative way of seeing, or a worthwhile attempt at what is Right and true. To the Quaker, there are no wolves.

Bacon, three studies for a self-portrait, rightThe Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up centretheir mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. One truth, one perception.

One might find Francis a conservative with a concern for PR, rather than a liberal. One can see chinks of light: every believer must study the Bible (p175) and in it will see the contradictions, lines of growth, and Love. You cannot be a conservative once you start to think.

The heart of [the Gospel] message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (p11). God constantly renews his faithful ones. I want to see hope here, that Francis might want his flock Christian, rather than merely Catholic- but the more I study his words, the more I see that is a leap of faith.

To celebrate having one thousand followers, I include these two polls. I would love to know how many of that thousand actually read this.